Get Stronger, Not Skinnier

When I was about 14 I was at least 20-30 lb overweight, and had no muscle to speak of. I was obsessed with skittles and snack food and I hardly ever worked out.

Enter mom, my savior. Being a nurse and active and healthy herself, she FORCED me to run/walk with her several days a week. I cried, screamed, yelled “I hate you” (yes, I really did)… for months.

And then one day, I got up and went for a run.

ALL BY MYSELF.

And the monster was born.

After that I swung rapidly to the other extreme: I became a calorie-counting FREAK, I ran further and further. I was approximately running between 8 and 15 miles a DAY at least 5-6 days a week.

One evening, I excitedly came to my mom and proudly informed her that I had only eaten 470 calories all day, and had run 9.2 miles on said calories.

Oops.

My mom helped me (I was about 17 by then) to study up on some nutrition guidelines and exercise science, and my love of fitness was born.

Still, while eating more/healthier foods I continued to count calories like it was my JOB and made sure to do 1-2 hours of cardio daily, sometimes 3.

I was (needless to say) quite thin, and had very little muscle mass. At 5’6″, my lowest weight between 16-18 was 104 pounds.

Eventually my mom became so concerned about my obsession with health and being “fit” that she pushed me to see a nutritionist. This was where I learned more about body image, BMI, and the idea that our perception of ourselves and our bodies (particularly true of women) is distorted regularly by both our own eyes and by the lens we view ourselves through: the airbrushed, anorexia-ridden, photoshopped lens that characterized modern glam, fashion, and even fitness.

My nutritionist upped my calorie intake by at LEAST 800 calories a day if not more (I was working out aggressively and eating around 12-1500 a day at the time). The only way I could manage to get my stomach to handle all of the extra calories was to spoon almond butter out of a freaking jar. I began to put on weight, but not in ways I liked. I needed to gain some, but I wanted to remain toned.

Thankfully the next year I participated in my very first nutrition and health science class during my freshman year. I learned so much about muscle, how to burn fat, the complications involved with calorie deficits and metabolism, and so much more. I was finally informed, and that class lit a fire under my “skinny-fat” little ass.

Since that time, about 5 years ago, I became certified as a group ex and spinning instructor and a NASM personal trainer. As my fitness journey has progressed, and as Ive learned more and more, the strangest thing has happened…

This cardio FREAK, who was paranoid about calories and making sure I burned off as MUCH as possible, has become an interval-training, kettlebell-loving, pro-weight-lifting, HITT junkie. And I’ve never felt better about my body.

Eating clean is different than counting calories. Getting stronger is greater than getting skinnier. Working harder is better than working longer.

and MUSCLE. BURNS. FAT.

I laugh now when I think of my poor, tiny little self, paranoid about curves, afraid to lift weights for fear of “bulking up”. I laugh when I think about my goals: to be “thin”, to “get smaller” or to “weigh less”. Weak, simple-minded goals.

Muscle weighs more than fat. Muscle burns fat. Lifting weights builds muscle. The majority of women couldn’t “bulk up” if they tried. Dieting is for dummies. Healthy choices are a lifestyle.

Getting stronger, fitter, faster, better, tighter, more confident > than anything that skinny bitch in the gym so many years ago thought she could achieve.

Thank God for moms who care, for almond butter, for interval training, for a changing image of women in the world. For strength more and more being acceptable, good, valued, admired. Thank God for kettlebells, chin up bars, hand weights, bikram yoga, spartan races. Challenges, challenges, challenges.

A better, stronger, healthier generation of gym rat. Functional movement exercises. Barefoot running and outdoor boot camps.

And thank God for Elmo, without whom none of my workouts would be possible.

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One thought on “Get Stronger, Not Skinnier

  1. cfal123 says:

    Great stuff, Jen! Would love to read some posts about your “eat clean” philosophy and what that looks like for you. What parameters do you follow?

    Also would love to hear your HIIT routines.

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